Pujols leaves lasting legacy in St. Louis

Pujols leaves lasting legacy in St. Louis

DALLAS -- Albert Pujols will probably chase 3,000 and perhaps even 4,000 hits. He may make a run at the all-time home run record. But he will not pursue baseball history as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. Pujols agreed to a 10-year contract with the Angels on Thursday, bringing to an end one of the greatest Cardinal careers in franchise history after 11 seasons.

Pujols departs with a top-10 career mark in virtually every significant offensive category -- this for a franchise with more than a century of distinguished history. He's fourth all-time in hits, third in runs, and second in total bases, doubles, home runs, RBIs and walks -- behind only Stan Musial in all five of those latter categories.

"I think his 11 years here will always be known as historic," general manager John Mozeliak told reporters on Thursday. "Every one of us who had the ability and opportunity to watch it should all be grateful."

He's a three-time league Most Valuable Player. He also won the 2008 Roberto Clemente Award for contributions on and off the field.

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But now he takes his talent and his legacy to Southern California. The totals will look the same regardless of what uniform he wears while compiling them. Musial's records, though, are safe.

Still, what Pujols did accomplish in a relatively short time -- he's still 31 -- is remarkable. He leaves with a .328 batting average, a .420 on-base percentage and a .617 slugging percentage. He's already amassed 445 home runs, one category where he was closing fast on Musial, who hit 475. His 1,329 RBIs and 1,291 runs are already starting to approach Hall of Fame territory for a player with the rest of his accomplishments.

And that's the thing. Pujols' time as a Cardinal is not defined by his regular-season numbers. What he leaves behind is a great deal more, between awards, wins and postseason appearances.

Along with manager Tony La Russa, he was the dominant face of a 12-year stretch in which the Cardinals were playoff perennials. In Pujols' 11 seasons, They made the postseason seven times. They won the World Series twice and made it to the Fall Classic three times. Pujols played on the winning side in 10 playoff series as a Cardinal.

And of course, he wasn't just along for the ride. Pujols created some remarkable playoff moments. He hit the mammoth, jaw-dropping home run that forced a sixth game in the 2005 National League Championship Series. His Game 1 homer in the 2006 World Series helped set the tone for that series. And Pujols' three-homer, five-hit performance in Game 3 of the 2011 World Series stands as the greatest outburst by any hitter in a World Series game.

Even as he departed, Pujols seemed at least somewhat aware of his stance within the club's history. He took out a full-page ad in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Friday thanking the city and fans for their support.

Still, though, for many fans, it's understandably difficult to appreciate the legacy at this time. Pujols has left, and he won't add on to any of those numbers in St. Louis.

"I don't think today is a day to reflect in any negative way, because so many great things happened in his time here," Mozeliak said Thursday. "It's over, but the fact that we had two World Series champions and played in a third, that's a great run and he was most certainly a key member of that."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.